PROFILE: Tony Britt - "I know what it's like to hit rock bottom"
TONY Britt gives a humble smile, as we ascend the staircase up to his small flat, and he warns me: "It's not a palace I'm afraid". Inside, the 48-year-old's home is spartanly furnished; the traffic noise rumbles in through the open window from Church Road – Redfield's busy thoroughfare – and the smoke curling up from Tony's mountainous ash tray leaves an ethereal gloom in the room.
It may not be a palace, but for Tony – who spent six months living rough on the streets of Bristol in 2010 – it's a life-saving roof over his head.
Tony is a man who has seen rock bottom; knows how it feels to lose everything and start picking up the pieces – the darkness of those days still haunts his face in the sallow circles under his eyes.
Tony is not exactly what you might expect from a mayoral candidate – he is not a polished politician, you may question what experience he could bring to the role, but there's no questioning that for him, the whole process of standing in the mayoral elections is an important part of his personal recovery.
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Raised in Knowle West, Tony has spent his entire life in Bristol – working for 17 years, through the 1980s and 1990s, for the city council as a groundsman, mowing school playing fields.
With his richly Bristolian accent, he pitches himself as a "salt-of-the-earth" man of the people, but admits his understanding of local government issues is limited – he promises he will "learn them as he goes along" if he is elected.
But Tony's life is dominated by the six months he spent living on the streets when his life collapsed around him in 2010.
"My wife kicked me out when our marriage broke down, and she disappeared off to Bideford, taking away my daughter Milliemae – the great pride and joy of my life. She would be six now, and my wife hasn't let me see her for three years.
"Our home was in my wife's name, so when she moved I lost everything – and immediately found myself sleeping rough. I had an old post office van, and I slept in that for six months.
"But the winter of 2010 was particularly cold – that's when we had all that snow, and I could have gone to sleep in the van and died in my sleep, so on the coldest nights I went and slept in St Luke's Church in Barton Hill."
With help from a number of homelessness charities, Tony was finally able to find his feet – and even got into his current flat in Redfield.
But Tony says he has not been able to work since suffering an industrial injury in 2004, so now lives off benefits, and spends his time volunteering for a number of charities around east Bristol.
"On Sundays I go to a bible studies session in an old lady's front room, then on Mondays I play darts at an old people's home in Barton Hill and help with a youth project at St Luke's," he says.
"Tuesdays, Wednesday and Thursdays I go to YES – the youth education service sessions, and help out as much as I can. Then later in the week I help out at the Wellspring Centre and I also go to group sessions for people who have been through divorce.
"I may not be working, but I keep myself busy. But when I heard about the role of elected mayor I knew I wanted to stand for it – I could see it would be an opportunity for me to do something about my real passion, which is that there aren't enough youth clubs around."
Tony says he borrowed a couple of thousand pounds to mount his mayoral challenge.
"I believe that children are the future," he says – admirably, without singing the words. "And I think it's a good idea for them to have things to do with their time, see?"
Tony has a limited manifesto, generally based on improving the lives of Bristol's children – he says he would give £10,000 of his salary to make sure every child in the city gets to see a show at the Hippodrome at least once a year.
"My dad was a bus driver," he explains. "And the bus company used to let the drivers take their kids to see a show at the Hippodrome once a year – I used to look forward to it for months, and that's always stayed with me."
But Tony does have some other, more ambitious ideas for the city.
"I would introduce an underground tube train system that generates power as it moves," he tells me excitedly. "Then I would give the idea to Richard Branson, so he can start something called Virgin Energy. That's how we'd pay for it."
But Tony's Virgin Energy idea is far from his most far-out notion. One of his clear preoccupations is that Freemasons are "running the city".
"Bristol is the masonic capital of the world," he tells me, leaning forward conspiratorially. "They're everywhere, and they have so much power, you wouldn't believe it, see?
"I know because I once had an argument with a couple of Freemasons I used to work for – and I never got anywhere after that, because their influence stretches so far across the city.
"You know the bottom of the M32 – the bit they redesigned a few years back?" he adds. "They constructed the road system there so that from the sky it looks like the Masonic compass symbol. That's how much power they have."
Name: Tony Britt
Birthplace: Knowle West
How long lived in Bristol: 48 years – all my life
Job: Charity volunteer – on benefits
Marital status: Single
Children: Milliemae, age six
Religion: I was born into a Church of England family, but now, although I believe in God, I don't believe in the need to be a member of a church
Secondary School: Merrywood Boys School, Daventry Road
Have you ever been a member of a political party? No.
City or Rovers? I was brought up a City fan, but became a Rovers supporter when I lived in Easton for 17 years.